Mike Francesa joined Katie Nolan’s “Garbage Time Podcast” and I had a chance to listen to the entire conversation. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s very insightful, covers a ton of different subjects and delivers some riveting opinions on the media industry. Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation.
If you were starting out in broadcasting now, what would you do to stand out?
“First, I would do a local show. I would never do a national show because there’s no way of knowing if you’re doing well or badly. You are just taking input from some executive who might not even know what he’s doing and may not know a good show from a bad show if it showed up and bit him on the rear end, but you’re going to get judged by something you have no control over. Be somewhere where you can do a local show and you have ratings or revenue that you produce where there’s a tangible way of saying “I’m either doing a really bad job or a good job”. I need a way to keep score. When you do it nationally or do it in any way where there’s not ratings or revenue to judge, you’re in trouble. Because then there’s no objective way to determine if you’re doing a good job because ratings and revenue are how you’re judged if you’re doing a good job. That’s all that counts.”
On whether or not being simulcast is important:
“It’s not necessary anymore. We did a simulcast for 12 years. The FOX thing didn’t work out for anybody and it wasn’t anybody’s fault. The thought of us was better than us. What FOX thought of me and what I thought of FOX were better than when we were together. They had plans for me and I had plans for them but the plans didn’t mesh with what reality was. So it never worked out. I went after them because they came after me very hard and gave me a lot of money and also it was intriguing to do something different. They had a plan but they changed their plans so many times that it never had a chance to work. So we were both in the wrong place at the wrong time so we just needed to end it as quickly as we could and we did. I’m not against the simulcast but it is not a necessary part of my show where I am right now.”
On monitoring his show’s ratings and analyzing which content on his show does and doesn’t work:
“It doesn’t affect how I do my content but do we tweak things? Yes. Is there a game to it? Yes. Do we pay attention to it? Enormously. My producers and the people who work for me pay attention to it because they get paid for finishing first. They don’t get a bonus if we don’t finish first. They tackle me when the ratings come out. If I don’t finish first I’m not breathing. I don’t get paid on the ratings. I did in the beginning but not anymore. They stopped after three years of giving us bonuses because we were finishing first every time so they paid us to be first. I had one guy call me once when I finished second and tell me “I pay you to be first” and then hung up the phone. I understood the message. I’m never happy if I don’t finish first. We’re not trying to beat the sports station, we’re trying to beat every station.”
On why he chose to reunite with Chris Russo on March 30th:
“It was the right person who asked and it took The Garden to put it together. There were a lot of components. CBS had to say yes. They owned the rights to the name “Mike and The Mad Dog”. We thought we needed the name. They had to go ask for permission from Sirius. Sirius was a little more leery of it than my guys were. Jim Dolan and The Garden have a lot of clout and they were able to pull all of this together. He called Les Moonves and the guys at Sirius and after two phone calls it was done in two minutes. Dog and I both agreed to do it because the guy who asked us, Barry Watkins, has been a good friend of ours for a long time. He asked Dog first and then asked me. We thought it was for a good cause. Radio City was also very appealing. That’s the big time. I never fathomed being at Radio City Music Hall. That’s a big place.”
On his current relationship with Chris:
“It’s probably bad to say, we’ve been apart 8 years and I’ve seen him 5 times. We morph right back into who we were though. He’ll start telling me secrets. We know so much about each other that we can talk about business, our lives, and morph right back into that when I haven’t seen him in two years. It’s weird that we have that relationship. It’s like we’re related but we never see each other. We are kind of tied at the hip because we owe our careers to each other. I have had great success since we split up but I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for “Mike and The Mad Dog”. I’m not an idiot. I know that. Dog knows it too. We put something together that was iconic and gave us a chance to do everything we do. I’m very protective of “Mike and the Mad Dog”. It’s the best sports show of all time.”
On why he hasn’t kept in touch with Chris:
“We never socialized together. We spent 30 hours on the air. If you take in the time before and after, or if we were traveling, we’d spend 50-60 hours together, every week, for twenty years. That’s more time than you spend with anybody. There were times, and this is why we were so good, where we would do a show, five and a half hours a day, and one time we did it for six months, where we never spoke a word off the air. We were that mad at each other. And we would go in and do a show for five and a half hours and nobody would know we were fighting. We’d leave and go our separate ways. We’d show up at the studio at 1:03 and we’d do a show and leave and never speak a word even during the commercials.”
On the possibility of “Mike and the Mad Dog” reuniting permanently:
“I don’t think we would be the obstacle. I think the business is the obstacle. I think now, at this stage of our lives, everything has to be right. The business is shrinking, not expanding. There’s no way they can afford a show as expensive as ours. I don’t think economically it would be feasible. I don’t think either one of us would work for the amount of money that it would take for us to work for to do it. There’d be no reason for us to do it. If they could pay us like we are both used to being paid then do I think it could work. Do I think there’d be other obstacles? No. I think the obstacle is economic purely. The business is shrinking. I timed it well for this reason. They don’t want guys like me in this business anymore. They don’t want stars. They don’t want guys who are making a lot of money. They want a bunch of cookie cutter people who they can control that aren’t any trouble. Let the events, the packages, and the games be the stars. ESPN is doing that. They want a bunch of nameless faceless guys. If I asked you right now to give me the names of all the ESPN SportsCenter anchors you think you could do it? There was a time when everyone could do it. If they were here right now I wouldn’t be able to name two of them. They’re a bunch of nameless faceless people. That’s what the business wants now. They don’t want to pay anybody. They want people to be interchangeable. They want the events and the rights fees to carry the day, and make the sportscasters and the people interchangeable and I think they don’t want to pay anyone anymore. That makes it a tough business.”
On who called and was under consideration as a possible partner when Chris left:
“One person who called was a former Governor. It was a varied group. Chernoff and I had 200 people call us. Some of them you would not believe. They could have made the funniest tandems of all time. I’ve never revealed a name. I made one phone call. I called Bill Simmons and in typical Bill fashion, he said “you can’t afford me”. I said “Bill, get real”. He said he was tied up in LA and would love to do it but couldn’t do it. He’s the only one I ever called. I thought it would be fun. I’ll tell you who I would’ve taken with me if I could’ve taken him was Mike Breen. It would’ve been great. He was obviously busy with his broadcasting. Breen is great. He is funny and he would’ve been great doing that show and I would’ve loved doing a show with him but he was busy with the Knicks and already signed a contract to do the NBA for all those years. He couldn’t have been around every day but he’s a guy I would have taken in two seconds.”
On doing an upcoming “30 For 30” for ESPN:
“It’s being done. We’ve agreed to do it. It’ll be next year but they’ve already started doing work on it. They told me it’s going to be sixty minutes and it’s going to be a “30 For 30” and on our impact on the sports culture. Those things are really well done and I really believe that “Mike and the Mad Dog” did change a lot of stuff. It changed radio dramatically but I think it also at the right time it changed the sports culture a little bit in some different ways. So I think it really has its own niche. Dog and I are going to sit down together and individually for them, I believe in the summer time. They’re actually taping FrancesaCon this weekend and starting to do everything else we do in the next year. I believe they’re going to show it next January.”
On the surprise of him partnering up with ESPN on the project:
“I despise ESPN. They got so big that they forgot how to do sports with any touch. Just the silly stuff they got into. They stopped allowing any guests to be on my show. Some of those people are good friends of mine and they’re not allowed on my show. That was petty and stupid. It wasn’t going to help their local ratings with their ESPN shows. If they wanted to fix that radio station they’d have fixed it a long time ago. They obviously know nothing about radio we understand that. They don’t want to fix it. It’s there for what it’s there for. To make all those guests, many who are friends of mine, and a lot of them have gotten in trouble because they said “I’m going to go on” and they’ve been told “you’ll be fired if you go on”. So they actually have taken it to that level. From that standpoint I don’t like how they go about everything now. I hate what they did with the ESPY’s. I hate what they’ve done with a lot of sports. I used to go up there in the beginning and I almost worked there but I couldn’t think of living there. I did some work for a guy named Bill Fitz. Guys like Wildhack were BA’s in those days. You’re talking about the 70’s when that place was nothing. It was one little building in the middle of nowhere. So I’m a kid from Long Island who loves New York City, I couldn’t see being up there. But they had talented people, and they hit it right, and they built an empire. They are the mothership. Now it looks like their day is done. If they don’t continue to have the advantage they have, the cable payment system the way they have it, all the sudden things are going to change for them. But they had this advantage for a long time and it was one no one else came close to doing. They were double dipping. They were getting paid and charging for commercials. So they had more money and they were overpowering everybody. I just don’t like the way they do certain things. Fox is clearly going after them and the way they’re doing it, they’re not going to show a lot of success, but if they stick to it and pound the rock, 7-8 years from now they will catch ESPN. It will take them that long but if they continue it, and it’s going to cost them a lot of money to do it, they will catch ESPN.”
On his relationship issues with Boomer and Carton:
“I don’t really feel like I know Craig. We got off on the wrong foot. There’s no love lost between that show and my show. None. We probably weren’t very accommodating to them when they first got there because we were very loyal to Imus. If I did anything wrong I probably just ignored them. I didn’t promote them, I didn’t try to sabotage them, I don’t do negative things to people. I don’t sabotage anybody. The worst I’m going to do is ignore you. I don’t try to get anybody fired or run anybody down. I’ve never done that in my life but I will ignore them. I ignore a lot of people. And I’m sure they didn’t like that but there’s never been anything positive between that show and me and that’s just the way it’s been. We have no relationship. I guess there was a time when we could have salvaged it but I think it’s way past salvaging. I don’t think that’s possible now. I think they don’t like me and I don’t really care for them. I think that’s fair. I think a lot of stuff from my standpoint is misunderstood. I’m hard headed and I admit that. But I’m never out to hurt anybody else and I don’t go after anybody else. I just try to maintain my business. Don’t interfere with my show and I don’t interfere with anybody else’s. I show up and do my show and that’s my job. That’s it. I do my job.”
On leaving WFAN at the end of 2017:
“I’m not saying I’m leaving the business. I’m leaving Monday-Friday, five and a half hours, FAN, I am bringing the curtain down on that part of the show. I am not saying I’m not going to work again. I’m not saying I’m not going to do anything ever again. What I’m saying is, that part of my life is ending at the end of 2017. I’ve agreed to stay through the end of 17. We talked about me leaving earlier. We discussed it. They didn’t really want it. They didn’t give me a chance to get out. They never offered me a reasonable way out. So 17 it is. At the end of 17 there will be no more FAN. That I promise.”
Francesa also shared his thoughts on the loyalty of Mongo Nation, the growth of FrancesaCon, dealing with critics, how social media influences today’s decision making, being rejected 15 times while trying to pursue an on-air career, the reasons why he and Chris Russo would argue while they were together, the chemistry they had as a show, discovering new talent and getting involved in the digital world in the future plus more.
To hear the entire interview, click here.